19/09/2014 - 05:12

Fancy footwork from the EPA

19/09/2014 - 05:12

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Both the EPA and Colin Barnett wished the bad headlines would go away … and to a large degree they did.

Fancy footwork from the EPA
CONFUSED: Premier Colin Barnett couldn't understand the reaction to his shark culling decision.

There were plenty of red faces at the Environmental Protection Authority when the Supreme Court ruled that decisions on 25 key resources and urban projects were invalid because some board members who deliberated had a conflict of interest.In a stunning display of chutzpah, however, the red faces didn't last long when, next day, the EPA recommended that the government's trial shark drum line policy be abandoned due to unacceptable environmental risks.

It was Premier Colin Barnett's turn to feel the heat, with headlines such as 'EPA kills Barnett's shark cull' and 'Barnett's shark cull harpooned by EPA'.

This time around the premier was not in a fighting mood on the issue. Though the EPA's decision was not binding, Mr Barnett was not going to oppose it.

So just as the EPA's embarrassment – and especially that of chairman Paul Vogel – was short-lived, so was that of Mr Barnett. In fact he might have been quietly relieved.

Remember how the drum line policy came about? It was adopted late last year after demands for action when the seventh victim of a fatal shark attack in three years was taken off the Western Australian coast. The demands could not be ignored.

Drum lines apply in several other parts of the Australian coastline without apparent fuss. But all hell broke loose after the premier's decision. His Cottesloe office was attacked, there were big beach protests, and thousands of submissions were made to an EPA review.

The government was facing another summer of distraction if it persevered with the policy. The ferocity of the protest campaign could not have been anticipated – and Mr Barnett and Fisheries Minister Ken Baston would not have been relishing prolonged hostilities.

So the EPA has scored a double on this one. The premier has accepted its recommendation, sparing himself and his government from another summer of diversion in the process.

For his part, Mr Barnett can boast that no lives were lost while the policy was in place. Of course the challenge is to come up with an effective and acceptable alternative.

While the drum lines debate has cooled in the public arena, it still generated some heat in the Legislative Assembly, when opposition leader Mark McGowan pursued the premier following the EPA's recommendation. Mr McGowan set the tone by referring to the drum lines as "this flawed, failed, unacceptable, dangerous and ill-considered policy".

Mr Barnett expressed surprise that the catching of white pointers was to be prohibited in WA but apparently sanctioned in New South Wales and Queensland.

In a lively exchange, with numerous interjections, Mr Barnett threw this barb at his opponent: "The leader of the opposition claims some sort of outrage. The truth of the matter is that he would never have acted; he would have kept to the policy of his own home state, where they catch great whites and have been doing so for 50 years."

The home state reference was to NSW. Mr McGowan was born in Newcastle, and moved to WA as a Royal Australian Navy lawyer 23 years ago. Referring to an opponent's origins is an unusual tactic in the WA parliament, with many MPs being born overseas. Mr McGowan was later ordered to leave the chamber for persistent interjections.

Legislation to rectify the EPA's conflict of interests bungle is expected to get a quick passage through parliament. While far more important economically, it has been overshadowed by the sharks – much to the EPA's delight.

Is that by design or just good luck? Take your pick.

Anthony's blunder

Former deputy prime minister and National Party leader, Doug Anthony, has been blamed for one of the most significant blunders in Western Australian electoral history – the merging of the Country Party and the Democratic Labor Party to contest the 1974 state poll.

Responsibility for this dark chapter in the history of the Country – now National – Party is sheeted home to Mr Anthony and his federal colleagues in a new book by state MP Wendy Duncan, and historian Lenore Layman, marking the party's centenary.

Mr Anthony's goal had been to combine the Country Party's strong regional vote with the DLP's urban support base, by forming the National Alliance. But the city vote slumped and the Country Party lost seats in both the lower and upper houses.

Although the party still joined in a coalition government led by Sir Charles Court, its influence was diminished.

The CP-DLP marriage lasted until the federal election later in 1974, when the party's two remaining MHRs in WA, Don Maisey (Moore) and Jack Hallett (Canning), were defeated, and it lost a Senate seat.

"The slliance was a failure, a serious misjudgement given that the DLP was in so many ways the (Country) party's antithesis – city based, Catholic influenced, culturally rigid and reactionary ... ," the authors said.

Mr Anthony did receive credit for the party becoming the National Country Party in 1975, before officially adopting National Party in 1984.

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